Unfair to call the current Pakistan team mentally weak: Maqbool Babri

Dr. Maqbool A Babri. Photo courtesy: PakPassion

By Saj Sadiq

Maqbool A. Babri, popularly known as Max Babri, specialises in institutional development through participatory decision-making, interpersonal skills, team building, leadership and individual empowerment. His expertise is frequently sought by major multi-national businesses as well as by United Nations Agencies, GTZ and World Bank projects.

He is a visiting Professor at the Punjab University teaching Group Psychotherapy to the students of “Advance Diploma in Clinical Psychology”.

Babri, a practicing Psychotherapist and a certified clinical Hypnotherapist, has worked with Pakistani cricketers on a number of occasions and in this exclusive interview with PakPassion.net he describes his areas of expertise and how he has utilised them when working for the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion.net (PPN): Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into hypnotherapy and psychotherapy?

Maqbool Babri (MB): After my intermediate, pre-engineering from Cadet College Petaro, in 1969, I decided to study social sciences instead of engineering that my father wanted me do. In 1974, I completed my masters in Clinical Psychology from Government College Lahore, now called Government College University.

I was invited to the Punjab University to teach Clinical Psychology in 1975. I went to Sweden to study where I completed a diploma in psychology to enable me to obtain the academic qualification to practice psychology in Sweden. I also completed a Business studies programme while I was in Sweden. I became very interested in the role of subconscious mind in driving us and as the seat of our self esteem. Also the power of positive visualisation and its impact on performance and results encouraged me to study Hypnotherapy and in 1998 I went to USA, where I obtained the formal qualifications leading to the title of Clinical Hypnotherapist and a license to practice Hypnotherapy.

PPN: What would you say are the most enjoyable and least enjoyable aspects of your work?

MB: The most enjoyable part of my work is that I get to participate in the development of people who come to me for therapy, whether it’s for depression, anxiety, fears, relationship issues, conflicts or performance related challenges. To see my co-counsellors (my clients are called co-counsellors) grow, develop and realise their potential is the most gratifying aspects of my work. The least enjoyable is to see the suffering and hear about their pain mostly caused because of the wrong perceptions they have about themselves, mostly as result of unfortunate off-loading of frustrations of parents, teachers and people in power.

PPN: When did you first work with Pakistani cricketers and what was the appeal in working with Pakistani cricketers?

MB: The first time I worked with a national cricketer was prior to the Pakistan Team’s tour of Zimbabwe. I did a couple of private hypnotherapy sessions with Yousuf Youhana, as Mohammad Yousuf was called at that time. He went on to score a huge number of runs during that tour. My second interaction with the Pakistan team was prior to the 2009 T-20 World Cup, and the team went on the win the World Cup in England. I was also involved briefly prior to the Champions Trophy in South Africa in 2009. The team did well and reached the semi finals of that tournament.

I was also invited in 2012 to work with the Pakistan under-19 cricket team prior to the Asia Cup in Malaysia; the team tied the final with India and was declared joint winners in that tournament.

PPN: When you first worked with Pakistani cricketers, it must have been quite an eye opener for them? What was the reaction like?

MB: The team and the players were very excited as they all wanted to do even better and overcome their fears and concerns. I did hypnotherapy to programme their mind to think positively and inculcate confidence and mental toughness.

PPN: Have you worked with other famous people, other than Pakistani cricketers, in and outside of Pakistan?

MB: Yes, apart from cricket I have worked with golf champions both in Pakistan and abroad. I have worked with many corporations and large MNC doing group therapy in the area of team building, leadership and strategic planning and also individual coaching through hypnotherapy for senior management staff.

PPN: You’ve worked with a number of Pakistani cricketers; any Pakistani cricketers that you feel you would have liked to have worked with but didn’t get the opportunity to? Also why would you have liked to have worked with that individual and how do you feel you could have “improved” that individual’s career?

MB: I have worked with almost all the current national team cricketers, but certainly it is interesting for me to help enhance the performance of our heroes. I believe psychological interventions and especially hypnotherapy strengthens confidence and self belief and hence makes performers mentally tough.

PPN: What techniques have you used on the Pakistani cricketers and what has the response been like from the cricketers?

MB: The one-on-one sessions are aimed at getting to know each other, building trust and creating an environment that reflects equality and mutual respect for each other.

We then revisit lifeline, meaning we explore significant life events both with pleasant and unpleasant connotations. Reasons for anger, fear and guilt are then explored. Then an agenda for performance enhancement is identified and a hypnotic trance is induced and the sub-conscious mind is programmed to deliver the expectations.

Most players are very open to psychological support and hypnotherapy, yes, some were a little apprehensive and may have thought that psychology is for mentally unwell people, and hypnotherapy will get them to give up their hidden secrets. The Pakistani teams I’ve worked with have been very spiritually engaged and some even believe that psychology or hypnotherapy is something un-Islamic. Certainly some more work is required so that all members of the team recognise the advantages sports psychology could bring to them.

PPN: You’ve been quoted saying that you felt that the trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif were more innocent than guilty regarding spot-fixing. Do you still believe that now?

MB: I now submit to the evidence and ruling of the Court in London. It certainly was a trap. The people that trapped the trio are also responsible, but the players were certainly not as innocent as I thought at the time.

PPN: Last year you worked with Mohammad Aamer, tell us about what the aims were and whether they were achieved?

MB: My remit was to support him when he is going through tough times, to help him express himself openly and frankly so his anxiety can be managed. Also, to help him understand his situation and to encourage him to learn from mistakes he may have made and to provide him with positive visualisation for his future and cricket. In addition, I wanted to help him to begin to believe in himself and create a positive expectancy for the future.

PPN: Do you feel that Mohammad Aamer can overcome the mental scars and successfully return to domestic and international cricket when his ban ends?

MB: Yes, certainly, he will never be the same Mohammad Aamer, but he may be more enlightened and a stronger Mohammad Aamer who has learned the hard way to be the player he now wants to be and not make mistakes in the future and become a role model for others.

I am from the healing profession; I will not judge people. I work with them to further strengthen them and to be ready for opportunities whenever they arrive.

PPN: What will be the biggest obstacle(s) to Mohammad Aamer’s return to international cricket?

MB: Like everyone else, he will have to demonstrate that he deserves to be in the team. His guilt for getting involved that was wrong and off course he will have to once again earn the respect of his fans and a place in their hearts.

PPN: Zulqarnain Haider was referred to yourself. What were your aims for his referral and do you feel you achieved them?

MB: He came for consultations with me. The purpose was also to further strengthen him and support him when he was going through a bad personal patch. I must appreciate the vision and openness of the PCB and Chairman Zaka Ashraf who facilitated this process to support a national resource in need. He became much more positive and is now playing a league in Australia.

PPN: There were also reports that Umar Akmal had been referred to yourself. Can you confirm this and outline what your treatment for Umar Akmal involved and how he responded?

MB: Umar Akmal is a remarkable resource, and has tremendous potential. He is a young and exciting cricketer, the PCB invested in him through me to help him recognize his potentials and take more responsibility with maturity and become even more consistent as a team player. He responded very well and was taking his sessions very seriously.

PPN: The general impression is that Pakistani cricketers are mentally weak, do you subscribe to this theory or is that unfair?

MB: It is unfair to call the current Pakistan team mentally weak. All teams go through ups and downs and there is always room for all teams to become mentally even stronger.

PPN: You were part of the touring party that recently toured India and won the one day series. What methods did you adopt before, during and after that series?

MB: We did individual as well as group sessions to create enhanced energy and motivation. Team sessions were done to enhance team spirit and build synergy amongst the members.

Cricket is a team game and all members of the team work together to create an environment and so that the playing members could perform to their optimum. We all worked together as a team. But it’s the players who performed superbly and hence won the ODI trophy and drew the T-20 series.

We the support staff did our job. All of us worked very hard. The psychologist is one member of the support staff that includes physiotherapist, physical trainer, masseur, fielding coach, bowling coach, security, team manager and the head coach. We all supported the team and it’s actually the players who eventually won the series for all of us.

PPN: How were your suggestions during the tour of India taken by the players and coaching staff? Were they positive about your work or was there some apprehension?

MB: They were mostly positive, some concerns and doubts were also expressed. Certainly more buy-in for the psychological services to the players will be helpful in future.

PPN: Have any of the coaches in the past not been in favor of your methods and suggestions? If so, can you clarify what they weren’t happy about?

MB: I’m not aware if anyone is against me or my methods, I do believe that my opportunity cost and my fee structure may be a concern for the PCB management. I understand my work and methods are respected by most players and decision makers at PCB. I know that Chairman Zaka Ashraf is very positively inclined towards using my services.

PPN: How come you are not in South Africa, which has over the years been a very tough tour for Pakistani cricketers?

MB: This question should be addressed to the PCB decision-makers who could elucidate the reasons for not including me in the South Africa tour party. I can only speculate, I think it is a long tour and the costs of engaging me may have something to do with this.

PPN: What recommendations would you make to the PCB to ensure that Pakistani cricketers are “mentally tougher”?

MB: I urge the PCB to continue with engagement and involvement with the stakeholders for further strengthening of our human resources and the team. I would urge the PCB and management to become more focused towards serving the players.

I would strongly suggest a strategy planning workshop for PCB to evolve a long term plan through the involvement of all stakeholders. This will enhance the sense of security for everyone supporting the teams and the PCB. I believe more participatory decision making, more open consultations amongst the management, team selectors, coaches and the team leaders will further strengthen the performance of our team.

Certainly players also need to be engaged more by coaches and managers to facilitate strengthening of a value based culture, ensuring higher display of integrity and strength to resist and manage temptations.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)